KOLs (key opinion leaders), generally called ‘influencers’ in the West, are a key part of any digital strategy in a particularly celebrity-obsessed China. They can be sourced in a variety of ways including weirenwu (the official KOL platform introduced in the previous chapter), third-party intermediaries, and direct outreach.
The variety of KOLs ranges from A-list celebrities such as Taiwanese TV personality Little S (小S) with 36m fans, category specialists such as fashion blogger FreshBoy with 295k fans, to regional KOLs such as UK Red Scarf (英国红领巾) with a 112k-strong fan-base of Chinese users with close ties to the UK. Weibo has just as many actual KOLs as self-professed ‘fake’ KOLs and differentiating between the two can be a challenging task for even the most seasoned digital specialists.
To identify a good KOL, there are three things you should be looking out for:
- Good engagement levels: Fan numbers should be taken as a guide only as fans can easily be bought or gifted on the Weibo underground market but consistent engagement levels are much harder to fake.
- A relevant audience: Even a KOL with a large number of genuine fans must be treated with caution as the audience might not necessarily be relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach.
- Quality of their content: Finally it’s important to use a KOL who posts good quality, original content. If a KOL’s content is largely made of up reposts this is a sign of potentially fake KOL, or at least a KOL on the wane.